The State of the American Traveler in February 2023

Americans are feeling the love for travel as economic anxieties somewhat abate.

IMPORTANT: These findings are brought to you from our independent research, which is not sponsored, conducted or influenced by any advertising or marketing agency. The key findings presented below represent data from over 4,000 American travelers collected in January 2023.

A Demonstrative Love for Travel
With Valentine’s Day in its middle, February is a month often associated with love. Fittingly, love seems to be the feeling Americans have towards travel right now. Americans’ level of excitement to travel is at a 3-year high, reaching 8 on a scale from 0-10. In fact, fully 41% of Americans described their excitement for travel at a level 10! Right now, 84% of American travelers have existing trip plans, with one-third of American travelers likely to take at least one international trip this year. Half of American travelers report having 2 weeks or more of days available for their leisure travel. Booking behavior appears to also be up: 17% of American travelers said they made reservations or purchased tickets for trips in the last week alone. Keep reading for some of the factors driving the love for travel and more interesting trends.

Economic Anxieties Easing
Factors such as easing inflation and GDP growth seem to have abated Americans’ economic anxieties to some degree. Although the majority continue to believe that the US will enter a recession soon, 45% of American travelers believe they will be better off financially a year from now. The percent of American travelers who report that inflation led them to cancel a trip dropped to 27% after peaking at 36% in June 2022. Travel costs has abated as a travel deterrent compared to last month. Currently, 42% of American travelers say high travel prices have kept them from traveling in the past month, down from 49% in December. We are seeing a rebound in the percent of Americans who say the present is a good time to spend on leisure travel. At 30%, this is the highest it has been since last summer. In addition, over half of American travelers say that travel is a priority in their budget in the near term. This metric is also increasing, hitting a six-month high after a downward trend in the last half of 2022.

Increasing Rewards Points Usage with Increasing Travel Budgets
American travelers highly rating the importance of credit card and rewards points has climbed 6-points in the last month to 52%. Meanwhile, usage/redemption of rewards points for travel (primarily for airline tickets and hotel stays) has increased 5-points to 33%. Despite the increased valuation and usage of rewards points for travel, Americans’ anticipated average spending on leisure travel has increased to $4,407, up from $3991 at the conclusion of 2022.

The Forces Behind Travel Motivation
This month we explored what really fuels the desire to travel. Americans travelers surveyed were asked to think deeply about what motivates them to travel right now, and rated a set of motivators using a 5-point scale from “not motivating at all” to “critically important.” Quality time with loved ones, creating memories, experiencing new places, escaping the pressures of daily life and recharging are top tier motivators – about two thirds or more of American travelers cited these as very motivating or critically important. Second tier motivators include connecting with nature, visiting places of historical significance, food and the chance to expand one’s own perspective. Third tier motivators are concerts, the arts and shopping, with partying and bragging rights more relatively niche motivations.

Pets, Psychedelics & Other Noteworthy Travel Trends
Some other travel trends to keep in mind include:

  • 24% of American travelers say they have brought a pet along with them on at least one trip in the last year. Of this group of pet-toting travelers, 44% say they “usually” or “always” travel with their pet(s).
  • 22% of American travelers are interested in psychedelic tourism–traveling to explore the use of drugs such as ayahuasca or psilocybin
  • 17% used a travel advisor or travel agent to plan one or more trips in the past 12 months


For the complete set of findings, including historic data and custom information on your destination or business, purchase a subscription to The State of the American Traveler study.

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Call It a Comeback! Cities Back on Top of Trip Plans

Cities come out on top in 2023 in terms of the number of trips Americans have planned.

Historically, beach destinations always garnered the most excitement among American travelers, with cities coming in at a close second. However, the pandemic upended the travel landscape, and by summer of 2020 half of Americans said they would be avoiding visiting crowded destinations and 22% said they would actively avoid cities and urban areas in the six-month period after COVID is resolved. Fast forward to the start of 2023 and cities are now back on top in terms of leisure trip volume expectation. When asked how many leisure trips to specific destination types Americans anticipate taking in the next 12 months, the highest number on average was to cities/metro areas (1.7). followed by small towns (1.4) and beach destinations (1.3). In addition, cities have taken back their number two spot in terms of travelers’ excitement to visit (39% of Americans rated their excitement to visit cities as an 8 or higher on a 10-point scale) and over a quarter (26%) of travelers say they will prioritize visiting large cities in the next 12 months.

One thing to give pause, however, is that a notable number of Americans predict our cities will continue to struggle with crime and safety issues, despite the renewed tourism interest. One-in-five of all travelers also feel that American cities will become more dangerous and unmanageable places to visit this year (20%)—a feeling more commonly shared by Baby Boomers (24%), higher income brackets (HHI $200k+ – 23% and HHI $100k-$199k – 23%), those residing in rural areas (22%) and persons who have (or travel with someone who has) a disability (24%). This may damper this urban momentum, so Destination Analysts will continue track and keep you updated on how this progresses, including the implications it may have for the broader travel landscape.

Welcome 2023! The State of the American Traveler in January—Americans’ Top Travel Predictions for the New Year

Wariness about the travel industry can be seen in American travelers’ predictions about what will happen in 2023. Yet they remain very excited about their travels ahead—from capitalizing on dream trips to enjoying more authentic experiences.

IMPORTANT: These findings are brought to you from our independent research, which is not sponsored, conducted or influenced by any advertising or marketing agency. The key findings presented below represent data from over 4,000 American travelers collected in December 2022.

Happy 2023! May this year bring you much joy, prosperity and, of course, many incredible travel experiences! We’ll continue to keep you covered with the insights you need on the hows, whys and whos of travel and tourism.

High Travel Prices Costly to Travel Morale
For the last several months, we have been wondering if and when Americans’ patience with the high costs of travel will run thin. This may be coming to fruition. Currently 45% of Americans said travel being too expensive kept them from taking as many trips as they would have liked in the past six months—now statistically tied with gas prices as the #1 cited travel deterrent. This finding represents a 5-point increase over the last six months. In fact, fully half of American travelers even say high travel prices have kept them from traveling in the past month alone. Airfare specifically being too expensive was cited by 30% of American travelers as what has put them off travel. In addition, Americans’ personal financial situations continue to concern them and impact their travel—40% say their financial situation kept them from traveling as much as they would have liked. In terms of other factors dissuading Americans from travel right now, the stereotype about Americans’ “always-on” work culture remains an inhibitor. One-in-five say they are too busy at work and 16% cite not having enough PTO. And as Americans headed into December’s peak holiday season, fear of contracting COVID jumped more than 7-points over the month prior to 25%.

Over 62% of American travelers agree that they are currently being careful with their money because they are concerned about an upcoming recession. Of these recession-cautious American travelers, 77% say that their reduced spending habits also target travel. The number of Americans feeling like the present is a good time to spend on travel has reached a post-pandemic low 22%. And while 53% say that travel will remain a priority in their budget over the next three months, this is 5 points lower than at the same point in 2021.

But do Americans anticipate the recession to be short-lived? Nearly half of those surveyed still anticipate that their personal financial situation will improve in the next year. Expectations to travel and spend more in the new year are at the same levels they were at the onset of 2022—a year that saw records smashed for tourism. And Americans are starting the year with strong enthusiasm about travel. 80% report high degrees of excitement about travel this year—a level that is also the same as one year prior. In fact, 79% of American travelers already have trips planned in the next several months and anticipate spending $3,991 on their leisure travel during the year.

Predictions about Travel and What Will Impact It

There are healthy doses of optimism and pessimism in what American travelers predict for 2023. After perhaps experiencing revenge-travel fueled pandemonium in 2022, there appears some wariness of the travel industry among traveling consumers. Further price gouging (25%), labor shortages (24%) and an increasingly frustrating domestic travel experience overall (22%) are among the top scenarios we tested that Americans feel are likeliest to occur in 2023. Interestingly, 13% predict travelers will sour on the use of home rental services like Airbnb/VRBO—a sentiment felt strongest among younger travelers. Yet despite some of this negative outlook, 23% of American travelers say they will still take a dream trip to somewhere exciting in 2023. Gen Z and Millennial-aged travelers, as well as those who identify as Black/African American and/or Latino/Hispanic are the likeliest to say a dream trip will come to fruition this year. About 16% of American travelers feel that more authentic, less commercial travel experiences will grow in popularity (15.6%), and just over 14% say they will be more proactive about reducing the impact of their travels on the environment. Over 30% of American travelers say with a degree of certainty that 2023 is going to be a great year for them personally.

Air Aggravations
Although our survey fielded just before the full Southwest Airlines operational meltdown, air travel was already losing share as a transportation preference. When Americans were asked about their foremost travel transportation preference, those selecting road trips increased by 4 points from October to 44%, while preference for commercial airline travel dropped 3 points in that same timeframe to 29%. While the possibility of flight cancellations declined as a travel deterrent between August and December, we will look into any further or longer lasting effects of ongoing commercial air service issues, particular what transpired during this holiday season.


For the complete set of findings, including historic data and custom information on your destination or business, purchase a subscription to The State of the American Traveler study.

Learn more about the latest trends during our webinar.

To make sure you receive notifications of our latest findings, you can sign up here.

Have a travel-related question idea or topic you would like to suggest we study? Let us know!

We can help you with the insights your tourism strategy needs, from audience analysis to brand health to economic impact. Please check out our full set of market research and consulting services here.

Irasshai! Japan is Open to Tourists Again, But What Does Americans’ Travel Intent Actually Look Like?

With Japan reopening its borders to tourism on October 11, 2022, for the first time since the initial lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were curious about how interested American travelers are in visiting Japan in the next year.

First, Destination Analysts wanted to understand how many American travelers are aware that Japan is now open for travel. Just over one-third said yes (35.7%), with higher awareness among Asian-Americans (57.0%), urban residents (42.6%), and American travelers who reside in the U.S. West region (41.3%),

In terms of how appealing Japan is as a leisure destination for Americans, overall just over one-third (36.6%) of travelers find it to be appealing or extremely appealing. Similar to the segments that had a higher awareness of Japan’s reopening, Japan’s charm is felt particularly by Asian-American travelers (63.1%), urban residents (48.5%), and U.S. West region residents (45.1%). Those with an annual household income of $200,000 or more (49.2%) and younger travelers (Gen Z: 48.6%, Millennials: 47.0%) were also more likely than the average American traveler to say Japan is an appealing destination.

One-fourth (25.1%) of American travelers are interested or extremely interested in visiting Japan in the next year. Interest levels are highest among Asian-Americans (55.1%), Gen Z (40.2%), travelers with an annual household income of $200,000 or more (39.3%), and urban residents (38.2%).

Those American travelers were most interested in visiting Japan during the summer months, particularly in June (29.4%) and May (21.6%) (see Fig. 1). Tokyo is at the top of their list (78.5%), followed distantly by Osaka (34.6%) and Kyoto (31.0%) (see Fig. 2). Among this group, Asian-American travelers were much more likely to say they are interested in visiting Sapporo (21.2%, +11.4 percentage points greater than total interested travelers).

When asked what reasons drive their interest in visiting Japan for leisure, half of Americans selected the food and cuisine (50.3%) (see Fig. 3). This was followed by history and heritage sites (40.6%), though for Baby Boomer travelers history and heritage sites were actually the top reason for their interest in Japan (53.8%). 38.9 percent of American travelers also selected arts and traditional culture.

We found that LGBTQ travelers have a greater interest in Japan’s culture from both the traditional side (60.6%, +21.7 percentage points greater than total interested travelers) and the pop culture side (44.7%, +20.8 percentage points greater than total interested travelers). There is also notably higher interest in the unique activities Japan has to offer, such as visiting onsen (Japanese hot springs) or climbing Mount Fuji, among the LGBTQ traveler segment (58.5%, +22.0 percentage points greater than total interested travelers).

But interest in a destination is only one piece of the puzzle. We also examined how motivated Americans are to actually take a leisure trip to Japan in the next 12 months. When asked to rank their motivation to visit Japan in the near term on a scale of 1 to 10, just 15.3 percent of all U.S travelers ranked an 8 or higher. However, Asian-Americans (37.3%), higher income travelers (29.1%), and urban residents (28.8%) were significantly more likely to say they were highly motivated to take a leisure trip to Japan in the next year.

For further insights into prospective American travelers to Japan, such as what kind of media they are consuming, what travel planning resources they use, and what other destinations they are interested in visiting, please reach out to our research team at info@destinationanalysts.com.

To stay up-to-date on traveler trends, sign-up to receive monthly updates and Key Things to Know from our State of the American Traveler Study here.

The State of the American Traveler in December 2022—Holiday Travel Inspiration & the Importance of Deals and Rewards

Over half of American travelers say they are taking a vacation or other trip this holiday season, and the majority of these holiday travelers are still open to ideas and destination inspiration. Meanwhile, as many Americans feel a recession looming, deals, discounts and rewards programs are gaining importance.

IMPORTANT: These findings are brought to you from our independent research, which is not sponsored, conducted or influenced by any advertising or marketing agency. The key findings presented below represent data from over 4,000 American travelers collected in November 2022.

First…Happy Holidays! We wish you and yours much joy and merriment this season.

Americans Looking to Travel this Holiday Season—Still Open to Ideas
The holiday travel season is upon us and well over half (55.1%) of Americans plan to take at least one leisure trip between now and January 7th, and 29% plan to take two or more such trips in this timeframe. Although 47.4% of these holiday travelers plan to stay in the home of a friend or relative on these trips, 58.4% will also in paid lodging (23% at a 3 or 4-star full-service hotel, 15.3% at a budget hotel, 11.4% at a 5-star hotel and 8.9% in peer-to-peer lodging). On average, the duration of these holiday trips will be 5.3 days.

American’s top holiday season travel priorities include spending time with family (81.4%), relaxation (69.7%) and of course enjoying family traditions (67.7%). In addition, nearly a quarter will prioritize meeting new people (24.8%) and/or traveling outside the United States (23.9%). While 48.4% say these holiday trips are being taken to celebrate a specific holiday, 42.3% say at least one of their trips will be purely for vacation or a weekend getaway.

In terms of the types of destinations Americans plan to visit, small towns (32.7%) and cities (32.5%) will be most common followed by beach destinations (23.1%), state/regional parks (15.0%) and theme parks (14.5%). And in good news for destination marketers, over half (52.4%) of holiday travelers say the destinations they plan to visit this holiday season have not yet been firmly decided.

Deals, Discounts & Rewards Gain Importance as Travelers Get More Careful with their Money
Fewer Americans now say that inflation in consumer prices has led them to cancel an upcoming trip. Now, only 28.7% say they have, which is down nearly 8 points from June. Similarly, the proportion of Americans who say they will take fewer road trips this winter if gasoline prices don’t come down has dropped to a low of 52.4% (which is down 16 points from its peak in June). Additionally, when we look at what has deterred Americans from traveling more than they would have otherwise preferred in the last 6 months, fewer are now citing the expense of gas (41.1%; down 6 points from July), airfare being too expensive has also declined (26.3%; down nearly 5 points since October) as has concerns over the possibility of flight cancellations (9.7%; down 6 points from August).

Despite these improvements, nearly 60% of Americans still expect the U.S. to enter an economic recession sometime in the next 6 months and therefore 64.7% of all travelers say they are being careful with their money now. In this vein, nearly three-quarters (74.4%) of Americans agree that travel deals and discounts are more important to them now compared to 6 months ago. Our latest survey also found that nearly 31% of Americans have used credit card points/rewards for travel-related purchases in the past 12 months alone, with the most common purchases being airline tickets and hotel stays (52.7% and 50.8%, respectively). Far fewer of these credit card point redeemers have used their rewards for upgrades to their hotel room (13.3%) or airline seat (11.7%).

International Travel Interest & Japan’s Reopening
Currently, 29.8% of Americans say they are likely to travel abroad in the next 12 months (which is down 4 points compared to October) with Italy, Canada, the U.K., Mexico, France and Japan being the most desired foreign destinations currently. And because Japan just reopened their borders to tourism for the first time since the start of the pandemic, we further gauged American’s interest in visiting this island Asian nation. Just over one-in-three Americans (35.7%) said they were aware of Japan’s border reopening and one quarter (25.1%) say they are interested in visiting in the next 12 months. Of these interested parties, their top drivers of aspiration for visiting Japan includes food and cuisine, history/heritage sites, arts and culture, unique activities, adventure and being a bucket list destination.

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Have a question idea or topic you would like to suggest we study? Let us know!

We can help you with the insights your tourism strategy needs, from audience analysis to brand health to economic impact. Please check out our services here.

The Important Work of Making Travel Accessible

 

During Destination Analysts’ November 2022 webinar update on The State of the American Traveler, we sat down with representatives from Wheelchair Travel, Accessible Travel Solutions, as well as Travel Oregon and Visit Mesa to discuss broadening accessibility to travel experiences and increasing the industry’s ability to be more welcoming to all. You can watch in the video above and read below for our key takeaways from this important discussion.

According to John Morris of Wheelchair Travel, while disabilities vary between people, and everyone has different needs, so it is important for destinations to reach out to their travelers to see how they can meet those needs. This is especially key when considering that seniors overlap significantly with the disabled population, and accessibility comes into play for both groups.

Some of the main barriers in accessible travel in the current landscape include misunderstandings at the decision-maker levels about the accessible travel market and the definition of accessible travel. It is challenging for destination leaders to evaluate the opportunity and understand how best to move forward. The need for expertise is part of this obstacle, and this in turn feeds into resources. Oftentimes, organizations do not have an accessibility expert and there is limited knowledge around what tools exist, according to John Sage of Accessible Travel Solutions.

It is also an awareness issue, says Morris. There is a lack of understanding of the size of the community of travelers with disabilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 26% of the U.S. population has a disability. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 12% of the population with a disability use a wheelchair. But there is a need for awareness around the opportunities that exist in the marketplace. Because of the lack of accessible environments, travelers with disabilities are less likely to be visible in the population of travelers visiting destinations, which exacerbates this issue. But in fact, there is an opportunity for destinations to really make a foray into that market, given the size of the population and the universal desire to travel that is shared by all travelers, regardless of their background.

Our panel shared resources that are available to organizations for support in their efforts to become accessible destinations and businesses. Among these, Travelability is a wonderful resource, according to Visit Mesa; the organization has a summit next summer that is highly recommended. Visit Mesa also recommends using community resources such as Facebook Groups to learn directly from travelers with disabilities about what their pain points are. Travel Oregon suggests turning to city managers, as cities often have Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinators who can provide information on accessibility in the community. The local community of people with disabilities can also be a wonderful resource.

We want to take the opportunity to once again thank Wheelchair Travel, Accessible Travel Solutions, Travel Oregon and Visit Mesa for sharing their learnings and best practices with the greater travel industry and for their incredible efforts in expanding travel’s accessibility.

Americans Surpass a COVID-19 Milestone – In a Good Way

Amidst the hubbub around the midterm elections and continued whispers around recession fears, American travelers quietly passed a milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic in the most recent The State of the American Traveler study, fielded from October 15-22, 2022.

For the first time since the start of the pandemic over two and a half years ago, the proportion of American travelers who are unconcerned about contracting COVID has surpassed those who are concerned. The percentage of travelers who say they are highly concerned about contracting the virus has dropped to just 38.4% of American travelers this month (see Fig. 1). This follows the trend we have been seeing since the omicron variant wave in winter 2021, with this month marking the lowest percentage since Destination Analysts started tracking this metric in March 2020.

American travelers’ confidence in their ability to travel safely in the current environment is also at an all-time high, with 60.4% saying they feel confident or very confident. In a similar vein, the share of travelers who say they are not very confident or not at all confident that they can travel safely right now is at its lowest point (9.3%).

Similarly, when asked what factors have kept them from traveling more in the past 6 months than they would otherwise have preferred, we continue to see a steady decline in the number of Americans who reported that safety concerns around the risks of COVID-19 are a travel deterrent (see Fig. 2).

These optimistic trends around COVID-19 safety concerns align with the continued upward trajectory in perceptions that we are returning to “normal” in the U.S. At another all-time high since the start of the pandemic, in this most recent wave nearly two-thirds (65.3%) of American travelers said we are more than halfway back to normal in terms of the resumption of typical leisure activities such as dining out and travel.

While these indicators have maintained their positive trends in recent months, Destination Analysts will continue to monitor American travelers’ sentiment and perceptions around COVID-19 and other health-related travel concerns on a quarterly basis in 2023.

To stay up-to-date on traveler trends, sign-up to receive monthly updates and Key Things to Know from our State of the American Traveler Study here.

The State of the American Traveler in November 2022—Holiday Travel on the Horizon, More Cautious Spending

Economic anxiety is increasing, and a period of more cautious travel spending appears imminent. Fortunately, holiday season trips and the near-term outlook for travel remain healthy.

IMPORTANT: These findings are brought to you from our independent research, which is not sponsored, conducted or influenced by any advertising or marketing agency. The key findings presented below represent data from over 4,000 American travelers collected in October 2022.

Economic Anxiety—and the Desire to Tighten the Purse Strings—are Increasing
American travelers expect that the U.S. will enter a recession soon, with two-thirds now believing this economic outcome to be imminent (interestingly, this belief spans generations, geographic regions and income levels). As such, 68% of American travelers say they are being careful with their money as a result of recessionary fears. Of this group tightening their wallets, 79% said this includes reducing expenditures on travel. In fact, the percent of Americans saying travel is a priority in their budget right now has hit a 10-month low (at 54%) and the percent saying the present is a good time to spend on travel is the lowest it has ever been since we began asking the question back in July 2021 (at 25%). The top deterrents to travel Americans report continue to center around financial and cost issues, with gas being too expensive, travel in general being too expensive, personal financial reasons and airfare being too expensive topping the list as reasons that have kept Americans from traveling more than they would have preferred.

Near-Term, Holidays + International Travel Expectations Still Healthy
Despite the growing concerns around travel spending, the near-term outlook for travel still appears healthy. Over 82% of American travelers say they already have existing trip plans. More specifically, in the next three months, 58% have a leisure trip planned, 51% have a trip to visit friends and family, 15% have business travel, and 9% have convention/conference travel. More than 28% report having plans to travel for leisure in the month of November (which is up 4-points compared to one month ago) and over 30% plan to travel in December (up 2-points from last month). Looking at travel for the upcoming holidays, 26% of American travelers report presently having plans to travel for Thanksgiving (up from 20% in 2021), 30% report Christmas travel plans (up from 27% in 2021) and 14% plan to travel for New Year’s (up from 12% in 2021).

Also in spite of economic anxiety, international travel interest has also grown to a year-to-date high. Currently, 31% of Americans saying they are more interested in traveling outside the U.S. than domestically (a 6-point increase compared to February 2022). Additionally, 34% say they are likely to travel outside the U.S. in the next 12 months (a 7-point increase compared to April 2022). The top international regions Americans are most likely to visit in the near future are Europe, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean Islands.

Among the most optimism-inspiring findings about the current sentiment towards travel is that Americans’ excitement about their future travel is back up to February 2022 levels (measuring 7.7 on a scale from 0-10, and among the highest levels recorded in the last 3 years). Nearly 80% of American travelers report doing some trip dreaming or planning in the last week, and 42% even agree that they daydream or fantasize about their future travel frequently.

Positive Sentiment Towards Air Travel Grows, But So Does Concern about Safety
Although Summer 2022 was a challenging period for air travel, in this latest wave of our The State of the American Traveler survey, air travel as a transportation preference has gained share from road trips. One-third report that they prefer air travel over road, cruise and train travel—up 4-points in the last month. Meanwhile, 40% prefer road trips, down 4-points since September.

Unfortunately, concerns about personal safety while traveling domestically are on the upswing. When asked how concerned they are about their personal safety when traveling within the U.S., 46% now say they have more than moderate concerns, which represents a 6-point increase in the last month. Over 7% of American travelers report that concerns about their personal safety even deterred them from traveling in the past six months.

Podcasts are Playing in Travelers’ Ears
Nearly 30% of American travelers report that they listen to podcasts on a regular basis. While true crime, comedy, news and entertainment themed content tops their playlists, 16% say they regularly listen to travel podcasts.

Greater Consideration for the Environment Being Exhibited
More than half of American travelers now say they usually make an effort to limit their personal impact on the environment when traveling, and 38% report that they planned carefully to reduce the environmental impact of their travel on their most recent overnight trip. Further findings about traveling consumer sentiment towards sustainability, climate change the environment will be explored and presented in our upcoming webinar on the Destination Management Edition of The State of the American Traveler on November 15th. You can register here.

We appreciate your support of this research from our small but mighty team of devoted tourism researchers.

To make sure you receive notifications of our latest findings, you can sign up here.

Have a question idea or topic you would like to suggest we study? Let us know!

We can help you with the insights your tourism strategy needs, from audience analysis to brand health to economic impact. Please check out our services here.

The State of the American Traveler in October 2022—Valuing Travel in a Recession + Dealing with Natural Disasters

Do Americans see travel as a worthwhile investment even in the face of a recession? Many say yes—even viewing travel as essential spending. Meanwhile, American travelers seem to be experienced with considering and adjusting for natural disasters when it comes to travel planning.

IMPORTANT: These findings are brought to you from our independent research, which is not sponsored, conducted or influenced by any advertising or marketing agency. The key findings presented below represent data from over 4,000 American travelers collected in September 2022.

Navigating natural disasters: Our thoughts are with all impacted by Hurricanes Ian and Fiona. Coincidentally, questions about navigating natural disasters were planned for this latest The State of the American Traveler survey, which was fielded September 15-25th. The survey found that American travelers appear to be experienced with considering and adjusting for natural disasters. Just over one-in-ten (11%) of American travelers say that natural events, hazards or disasters have impacted their travel in some way in the past year alone, with the most common being wildfires (30.4%), heatwaves (28.3%), floods (26.0%) and winter storms (25.4%). Among the 11% who have been impacted more recently, natural events/disasters have most commonly caused these travelers to change the timing of their trip (37.2%), but another 21.6% have also avoided specific destinations and/or cancelled a planned trip (17.7%). When asked which type of natural event/disaster has caused them to cancel trips outright or avoid destinations, wildfires were by far the most common in both situations, followed by flooding. Unsurprisingly, when asked what prompts Americans to think about natural events/disasters when planning travel, the majority (54.9%) cite news stories. Interestingly though, Baby Boomers (63.6%) were much more likely than younger travelers to be prompted by news stories, whereas Millennials and Gen Z are also significantly prompted by posts on social media (31.8% and 40.5%, respectively vs. 9.5% for Baby Boomers).

While Americans see an economic recession looming, many still view travel as “essential” and remain committed to spending on travel even in an economic downturn. Nearly two-thirds (63.6%) of American travelers expect the U.S. to enter an economic recession sometime this year and because of this 65.7% say they are being careful with their money. This is likely contributing to the declining sentiment that now is a good time to spend on travel (currently at 26.4%, down 4 points from the start of summer). Still, 60.8% say they generally consider travel to be a worthwhile investment. Interestingly, an even larger proportion (74.8%) agreed that they still consider travel to be a worthwhile investment during a recession. In addition, 39.3% consider spending money on travel right now to be essential—a sentiment that is strongest amongst Millennials, those who reside in the south and parents of school-aged children. Those in higher income groups (i.e., who have a household income of $100k or more) are also more likely to feel that travel spending is essential in the current environment. American travelers who identify as Black/African Americans (47.8%) and/or as Asian (42.6%) are also likelier to feel travel is essential.

Late Fall/early Winter trip expectations are holding strong—with visiting friends/family, vibe/atmosphere, and food/cuisine driving aspiration. Over a quarter of Americans anticipate taking a trip in either October (26.6%), November (24.8%) and/or December (28.4%). This is notable growth from June, when only approximately one-in-five said they had trip expectations for the fourth quarter of 2022. As expected as we enter the holiday season, visiting friends/family is the top driver of near-term destination aspiration. However, this is followed closely by the desire to return to a destination, general atmosphere and food & cuisine. Interestingly, for Millennials and Gen Z, adventure and food are more significant drivers of aspiration, whereas Gen X and Baby Boomers are likelier to cite wanting to return to a previously visited destination and beaches. As for parents of school-aged children, while their top drivers are also visiting a place before and wanting to return, visiting friends/family and food/cuisine, they are more likely than the average to also cite beaches/water sports (25.4%), adventure (22.9%), theme parks (20.1%) and shopping (19.4%).

Additionally, Americans continue to prioritize having fun and relaxation when traveling, but as destination marketers know, relaxation can mean a myriad of different things to different travelers. To dig deeper into travelers’ personal definitions of relaxation they were asked to define exactly what they consider relaxing while traveling. The majority cited being in a quiet/peaceful location (82.5%) followed by beach time (69.7%), chilling-out poolside (67.3%), enjoying culinary experiences (65.6%) and luxury hotel experiences (60.4%). Interestingly, Gen Z was much more likely than other generations to consider shopping to be relaxing (52.7% vs. 36.9% for the average traveler) and Millennials were more likely to consider being physically active as a form of relaxation when traveling (44.8% vs. 38.2% for the average).

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Luxury Travelers: A Profile

Every quarter as part of our ongoing The State of the American Traveler study, we take a deeper dive into topics and trends of critical importance to the travel, tourism and hospitality industry, in collaboration with our friends at Miles Partnership. For our Fall 2022 Segments Edition, we looked at trending traveler profiles from The State of the American Traveler’s extensive database—including Adventurers, Wellness-Seekers, Gen Z, Visiting Friends & Relatives, and Luxury-oriented travelers. Since the latter is of particular interest to many right now, following is a summary of the latest travel behaviors and psychographics.

These travelers are defined as those that will highly prioritize luxury travel in their upcoming trips, representing 27% of the American traveling population. As you would expect, this group is top when it comes to tourism economic impact. The average Luxury Traveler will spend $6,260 on their leisure travel in the next 12 months—$2K+ more than the typical American traveler. Demographically, Luxury Travelers skew slightly male and somewhat older than other traveler segments. They are likelier to be parents to young children, are more educated, and more ethnically diverse. And while they indeed have higher household incomes compared to other travelers, a number of these travelers have not yet achieved the six-figure household income threshold yet but are still choosing to spend their discretionary income on luxury experiences in travel.

Some of the belief systems and behaviors of interest among Luxury Travelers include:

  • Luxury Travelers are more eco-conscious compared to other traveler segments
  • They are likelier to make an effort to support minority owned businesses when they travel
  • Luxury Travelers are 3-times as likely as other travelers to want to be able to pay for travel services with crypto currency
  • These travelers are far less likely to have a preference for road trips compared to other travelers—instead preferring air. They are also much more likely to be cruise travelers compared to other travelers.
  • Luxury Travelers are likelier to consume cannabis compared to other travelers
  • Luxury Travelers love their iPhones
  • Luxury Travelers are the Type As out there traveling—the majority of these travelers describe themselves as having “active and energetic,” “outgoing and sociable,” and “dominant” personalities.

Other Behaviors and Preferences to consider about Luxury Travelers:

  • These are the travelers most in love with rewards programs. One-third (33%) used/redeemed travel rewards or points on their most recent overnight trip.
  • Luxury Travelers also have a benefit beyond their own travel as they appear to influence a greater swath of people—59% of Luxury travelers say they are someone others seek travel advice from
  • This travel segment exhibits the highest prioritization of and commitment to travel—both financially and emotionally
  • California and New York take top spots on their destinations list
  • For Luxury Travelers, Food/Cuisine is a top, top destination motivator
  • 32% of Luxury Travelers used an official destination website to plan travel in the last year
  • Luxury travelers are News Junkies: 80% regularly consume content from major national news outlets and sources
  • Luxury travelers are tech-forward: 30% say they are totally up-to-date on the latest travel technologies
  • In fact, 61% of luxury travelers say right now they would be interested in using the metaverse as a way to get travel inspiration

Have further questions or want more information about this and other traveler segments? Destination Analysts can help you dig deeper into your audience segments. We have over 2 dozen Travel Passion Profiles available right now, and we help many destinations and travel brands be more creative and efficient with their marketing strategies through Target Personas Prioritization & Understanding Studies, as well as Awareness & Understanding Studies. Please reach out—we would love to talk!